“Let’s keep Portuguese wine a secret,” says a vino-friendly acquaintance. “A few nights back I bought a Portuguese wine for $60 at a five-star restaurant. It was a delicious value.”
Most people associate Portugal with Port wine, the sweet after-dinner fortified wine made from an assortment of native grapes. Yet Portugal makes excellent dry wines from these grapes, and in the last few decades the country has improved quality to the point that wine from Portugal is the newest trend among wine aficionados and value-oriented consumers alike.
In the last month alone, wine from Portugal made the scene at the New York Wine Expo (with a seminar led by Professor Michael Weiss of the Culinary Institute of America), a walk-around tasting, seated lunch, and lecture (again by Professor Weiss) for the prestigious Wine Media Guild at celebrity chef’s Lydia Bastianich's upscale restaurant Felidia, and at the Astor Center.
In addition to a walk-around tasting wine at the Astor Center, expert Robin Kelly O’Connor and Portuguese cuisine expert David Leite spoke on Vinho Verde (the term loosely translated to “young wine” meant to drink early) and gave a tutored tasting of five white Vino Verde wines from different regions.
The wide diversity of Portugal’s native grapes was apparent at the Wine Media Lunch, where journalists could sample everything from light, refreshing white wine to deep, richly decadent port during an hour of walk-around tasting. I personally fell in love with the Quinta da Romeira 2007 ($10, imported by Aidil wines), which had the fresh lemon/citrus flavors of a Sauvignon Blanc and is an excellent pairing with seafood.
The grape is called Arinto, and it is common to the Bucelas region of Portugal (near the coast in the lower third of the country). What is interesting about this grape is that it can take such different expressions, depending on how it is matured. The Quinta da Romeira was fermented in stainless steel, which gave it a fresh citrus aroma and light weight on the palate.
Next to it was a barrel-aged Arinto, Campolargo from the Beiras/Bairrada region (Tri-Vin Importers), which was rich and succulent and would pair well with more savory dishes such as caramelized scallops. White Esporao Verdelho 2007 ($12.00, imported by Aidil) was characterized by a lean fresh fruity nose. The palate was quite rich and fruity with some honeyed notes and fresh acidity. I could imagine it pairing very well with white fish sautéed in brown butter.